Denis Onyango trumpets CAF Champions League significance to Mamelodi Sundowns
Posted: 2 June 2017 Time: 16:24
Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper Denis Onyango says the side's Champions League triumph brought a new level of respect and recognition for the club.
Sundowns won the event last year and continue the defence of their CAF crown tonight when they host Tunisia's Esperance at Lucas Moripe Stadium (20h00).
The two sides share the Group C summit with four points apiece from two matches.
Sundowns were held to a draw at home in their first pool game against tournament debutants Saint George of Ethiopa, but last week bounced back by beating AS Vita Club 3-1 in Kinshasa, DR Congo.
"We are respected now because without winning the CAF Champions League, as much as you play and win the domestic, no one will obviously look at you as a big club," says Onyango, who added the CAF Footballer of the Year Based in Africa prize to his collection after the Brazilians' continental heroics.
"So, for us winning Champions League was very, very important last year. It was important for the club, and mostly for the players because you get to be recognised as top players in Africa because you get the exposure. You get the chance also to play at the FIFA Club World Cup, you win top awards because no one can reward you without winning the Champions League.
"As everyone saw the coach Pitso Mosimane managed to win the CAF Coach of the Year in 2016, I won the CAF Player of the Year [based in Africa]. It gets to expose players, it gives them the ability to play at the highest level of football. It takes us to the next level and also for me I think it's a learning curve for us because ever since we been playing in the CAF Champions League I think we haven't rested as a team. As we speak, we got lot of injuries recently but we can't moan about it because we are a big club and we must manage with every player that is available."
The Ugandan is especially motivated to succeed in Africa again after Downs surrendered their league title to Bidvest Wits and also lost in the MTN8 final to Gavin Hunt's side in 2016/17.
"Obviously we lost out the league, we lost out the cup games and that is life and that is the life of a footballer," he adds.
"But we still have the opportunity to win the Champions League again and get the team back to where it belongs because it's very, very important to win our next few games and also keep the supporters coming to the stadiums and enjoying the type of football we play.
"For me it is very important to play and also the technical team to stay focused and try and win as much as we can, because it's the only trophy that is lying ahead of us and one of the biggest trophies that we are looking at."